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This question is on the highlighted clause in this passage from chapter 7 of La porte étroite by André Gide.

Cette conversation ne fut pas reprise. Alissa m’échappait sans cesse ; non qu’elle parût jamais se dérober ; mais toute occupation de rencontre s’imposait aussitôt en devoir de beaucoup plus pressante importance. Je prenais rang ; je ne venais qu’après les soins toujours renaissants du ménage, qu’après la surveillance des travaux qu’on avait dû faire à la grange, qu’après les visites aux fermiers, les visites aux pauvres dont elle s’occupait de plus en plus.

QUESTION

  1. If I am describing someone's present behavior, but want to deny that she ever appears (i.e. now) evasive, which should I say:

    (1pr) Alissa m’échappe sans cesse ; non qu’elle paraisse jamais se dérober
    (1im) Alissa m’échappe sans cesse ; non qu’elle parût jamais se dérober

    In the label, 'pr' stands for 'subjonctif présent' and 'im' for 'subjonctif imparfait.'

    For the following questions, I am going to assume that the answer to 1 was (1pr).

  2. If I am describing someone's past behavior, but want to (now) deny that she ever (then) appeared to be evasive (i.e. say something like 'I don't claim that she ever appeared evasive'), which of the following would that be:

    (2pa) Alissa m’échappait sans cesse ; non qu’elle ait jamais paru jamais se dérober
    (2im) Alissa m’échappait sans cesse ; non qu’elle parût jamais se dérober

    In the label, 'pa' stands for 'subjonctif passé.'

    For the next question I assume that your answer here was (2pa).

  3. I note that Gide however uses (2im). Should I therefore understand (2im) to be a statement about what the narrator thought in the past. That is, something like:

    je ne croyais pas qu’elle parût jamais se dérober

    for

    I did not (then) think that she ever appeared to be evasive.

    and not

    Je ne dis pas qu’elle parût jamais se dérober

    --which would be ungrammatical?

BACKGROUND

This background is not part of the question. You don't have to read it to give an answer. I only set out my understanding of the relevant grammar--just in case anyone should look at it and find something wrong in it. Thanks.

Grammar

I understand that a que-clause in the 'subjonctif présent' or 'subjonctif imparfait' is contemporaneous with e.g. dire so that we get:

Je ne dis pas qu'il ait raison. (I don't say that he is right.)
Je n'ai pas dit qu'il eût raison. (I didn't say he was right.)

--where the second statement, being formal, can become in conversation:

Je n'ai pas dit qu'il ait raison.

In contrast, I understand that a que-clause in the 'subjonctif passé' or 'subjonctif plus-que-parfait' is temporally anterior to dire so that we get:

Je ne dis pas qu'il ait eu raison. (I don't say that he was right.)
Je n'ai pas dit qu'il eût eu raison. (I didn't say he had been right.)

--where again the second statement, being formal, can become in conversation:

Je n'ai pas dit qu'il ait eu raison.

Applying the grammar to Gide

Given the grammar above, I cannot interpret the Gide clause as giving what anyone would (now) say. I.e. the following would be ungrammatical:

Je ne dis pas qu’elle parût jamais se dérober

So the only thing I can do is to read it as giving what the narrator thought in the past, e.g.:

Je ne croyais pas qu’elle parût jamais se dérober

--meaning

I did not believe that she ever appeared to be evasive.

  • 1
    Je ne dis pas qu’elle parût jamais se dérober is IMHO perfectly good :-) – Frank Feb 13 '17 at 4:36
2
  1. Should be:

(1pr) Alissa m’échappe sans cesse ; non qu’elle paraisse jamais se dérober

  1. I would say:

(2im) Alissa m’échappait sans cesse ; non qu’elle parût jamais se dérober

  1. I think indeed the author thought that in the past. Well actually, it is a past tense, isn't it? I don't think it says anything about what he thinks now, though.

This one:

Je n'ai pas dit qu'il eût raison.

Sounds funny to me. I would say:

Je n'ai pas dit qu'il avait raison.

This one:

Je n'ai pas dit qu'il ait raison.

IMHO would be (esp. in conversation):

Je n'ai pas dit qu'il a raison.

This one:

Je n'ai pas dit qu'il eût eu raison.

is really "acrobatic". It might be grammatically correct, but nobody would say that, and maybe it would be rare even in writing. It sounds improbable or pedantic.

This one:

Je n'ai pas dit qu'il ait eu raison.

Maybe works, but I would have said:

Je n'ai pas dit qu'il avait eu raison.

  • Thanks for the answer, and the correction too! One question: When would we use (2pa) then? Is (2pa) at least grammatical? – Catomic Feb 13 '17 at 4:25
  • Not sure - with this passé composé I would feel like having a present first, but I'm not sure. Maybe (2pa) is completely possible but I don't react too well to it because we are losing the usage of these subjunctives in everyday life. – Frank Feb 13 '17 at 4:27
  • I see. On Je n'ai pas dit qu'il eût raison being funny. How about Je ne soutins pas qu'il eût raison (i.e. simple past soutins instead of composite ai dit)? – Catomic Feb 13 '17 at 4:29
  • Je ne soutins pas qu'il eût raison works, but Je ne soutins pas qu'il avait eu raison would be better, if you wanted to say that he had not be right in the past compared to the point of narration. – Frank Feb 13 '17 at 4:31
  • In my grammar, (2pa) would be grammatically correct as well as (2im). The semantics would be parallel to p.c. vs. impf. in a regular indicative sentence. – Luke Sawczak Feb 13 '17 at 4:32
2

(1pr) Alissa m’échappe sans cesse ; non qu’elle paraisse jamais se dérober

This one is ok because it is Present in the first one and non que has to go with Subjonctif. We use the Present form to indicate a simultaneous or posterior action while the Past Subjonctif would refer to an anterior action.

(1im) Alissa m’échappe sans cesse ; non qu’elle parût jamais se dérober

It is not possible to mix Past Subjonctif with the Present tense in the narrative - Past Subjonctif can only be combined with past tenses

So this is not correct

(2pa) Alissa m’échappait sans cesse ; non qu’elle ait jamais paru jamais se dérober

This one is ok according to the new French grammar standards - non que + Subj and Subjonctif Passé Composé to indicate an action that either happened in the past or has started in the past

(2im) Alissa m’échappait sans cesse ; non qu’elle parût jamais se dérober

Correct - Subjonctif for non que and Subjonctif Imparfait for a simultaneous action

Verbs of statement such as dire, exprimer, etc do not require Subjonctif - the que clause you are referring to there is called conjonctive or completive and it performs as a COD ergo not requiring Subjonctif

These two sentences:

Je ne dis pas qu'il ait raison. (I don't say that he is right.)

Je n'ai pas dit qu'il eût raison. (I didn't say he was right.)

are not correct as dire cannot have Subjonctif - it only demands back-shift for the second one.

Je n'ai pas dit qu'il avait raison. - simultaneous - I did not say he was right.

Je n'ai pas dit qu'il avait eu raison. - anterior - I did not say he had been right.

  • Thank you. I got from a Web page the idea that dire in its affirmative forms takes a que-clause in the indicative, but in the negative or interrogative takes a clause in the subjunctive. (See "5 of 8" in: french.about.com/od/grammar/ss/subjunctive.htm#showall) Was that simply wrong? Or just not as good as using the indicative straight through, as you said? – Catomic Feb 15 '17 at 2:09
  • "ok according to the new French grammar standards."--Is there some alternative standard by which the thing comes out not OK? – Catomic Feb 15 '17 at 2:12
  • Dire is not an opinion verb - either you have said something or you haven't - so there is a mistake in that list, the same with affirmer, exprimer,etc. On the other hand, croire, penser are thought to be verbs of opinion so when they are used in a question or a negative sentence, Subjonctif is used. This standard involves spoken language - if you speak using Subjonctif Imparfait people would look at you really funny as it is not used. For writing you can use both but the combination with Passé Simple and Subjonctif Imprafait is more literary and I personally prefer it when translating. – Tanja Balog Feb 16 '17 at 8:57

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